The High Points: Anno Mundi, The Sabbath Stones, Valhalla
The Low Points: Feels Good to Me
The Verdict: An overlooked classic.
The Rating: 8/10
Sabbath wasn’t doing so well commercially in 1990. Headless Cross had sold pretty well in continental Europe, but in those days there wasn’t a lot of money in that market and if you weren’t selling in the US and Britain you just weren’t selling. Nevertheless they pressed forward, taking to the studio with mostly the same lineup that had recorded Headless Cross. The only new face was bassist Neil Murray, who had been brought on board for the Headless cross tour.
Right out of the gate, Tyr is a very different beast than Headless Cross. It’s denser, heavier, darker, and less immediately catchy. Tony Martin’s melodies are darker and more ominous than before, and he’s mercifully dropped the cartoony “devil’s gonna get you” schtick. Instead roughly half of the album follows a nordic mythology theme, which Iommi says he had some trouble getting his head around. Really? Dude… what’s more metal than fucking Vikings? In any event the lyrics are mostly excellent; this is the moment at which Mr. Martin truly came into his own as a writer.
The whole first side is just epic. It starts with Anno Mundi, the kind of slow plodding heavy number that only Sabbath can seem to consistently pull off. The intro reminds me perhaps a bit too much of Children of the Sea, but I forget all about it the moment the riff kicks in. The Lawmaker is a furious burst of power, and Jerusalem is mid-tempo metal with a dynamite chorus. The Sabbath Stones juggles moods like a gymnast, mixing heavy verses with gentle acoustic interludes before closing out side two with a powerhouse finale at a faster tempo. Brilliant and breathtaking; easily the best track on the album.
The first half of side two is taken up by a collection of tracks I think of as The Valhalla Suite. It starts off atmospheric with keyboard instrumental The Battle of Tyr, seguing gracefully into moody acoustic territory with Odin’s Court. Then the sledgehammer comes down with the thunderous Wings of Valhalla. It doesn’t get much better than this, folks.
The record falls off a bit at the very end but I want to make clear that what follows isn’t bad… it just doesn’t match the solid wall of awesome we’ve been treated to thus far. Feels Good to Me is the worst moment… a power ballad? On a motherfucking Black Sabbath record? Actually it’s not terribly bad as power ballads go. Tony Martin’s background in power pop really shines through here and the band turns in a love ballad that is truthfully one of the better examples of the form. Still wish they’d have skipped it, though. Closer Heaven in Black has a gallop feel a little reminiscent of Children of the Grave, and while not a brilliant track it’s enjoyable enough.
Soundwise the album is perhaps a bit too dense; the guitars seem a bit muddy and Murray’s bass is sadly buried in the mix. It’s a shame, too… he’s such a great player and if you listen close he plays some really cool stuff here. Powell’s drum sound is thunderous. Everyone plays great, and Martin turns in the vocal performance of a lifetime.
Everyone needs to run out and grab this. It’s wonderfully heavy, extremely well-written, and ludicrously underrated.